Trickster Ethos and the Power of High Humor

 “It’s time to take humor seriously and seriousness humorously.” ~ Swami Beyondananda

I’m writing this from a throne of nothingness, floating like Michael Keaton’s character in the opening scene of the movie Birdman. No tricks. No gimmicks. Just pure unadulterated imagination. You see, I’m playing hide and seek with myself.

A lifetime ago I was a compliant caterpillar. Now I’m a Chaos Theory butterfly flapping its wings and causing tsunamis of thought to erupt all across the planet. No secrets. No hidden agendas. Just an open book and a heart on a sleeve.

But, have no illusions, the existential residue is ruthless, and prisoners will not be taken. There is only room in this sacred space for uncompromising freedom.

Here’s the rub: I’m a trickster-god in training, but the training never ends. My first master was Pain, my second was Nature, but it was my third master, Thunder (the most trickster element of all), that opened my eyes to the true fear of mankind: Thought… Yes, thought.

Bertrand Russell said it best: “Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth –more than ruin, more even than death… in action, in desire, we must submit perpetually to the tyranny of outside forces; but in thought, in aspiration, we are free. Free even, while we live, from the tyranny of death.”

illusion-mushrooms-skullPeople fear thought, especially deep imaginative thought, because it is the key to the locked door of personal freedom. But why fear freedom? Because it is only when we’re free that we are forced to be responsible with our choices, and when it comes down to it most people don’t want, or can’t handle, such a huge responsibility.

Up until that point we can simply write choice off (whether consciously or subconsciously) as fated or circumstantial, or as an unfounded appeal to authority, or as an abdication of responsibility based upon bad faith and magical thinking. It’s only when we’re free that we can fathom the courage it takes not to become just another victim in a long line of victims.

And that requires thinking – deep imaginative thinking. This kind of thought that looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Quite the opposite, actually: It laughs full-throated, wholeheartedly, the laughter of all gods and of none.

This kind of thought is uniquely powerful, as it has the power to get power over Power itself: the humorous thought of the almighty trickster. Trickster teaches that Reason operates in service to Imagination, not vice versa. Deep thought makes Reason the lackey of Imagination. For our deepest animal-self wants to be surprised.

Deep down inside, we know the whole bit. We feel it in our gut that all things are connected and that our individuality is at the mercy of a greater interdependence. We give into the illusion of separation so that we can be surprised by the truth.

So we play things out and get lost in such boundary-laden constructs as Fear and Love, Good and Evil, Life and Death. But there is a freedom force that has the power to unravel it all into something more profound and then tie it all together into something more holistic: Imagination and deep creative thought.

With this force passionate art is allowed to break the spell between fear and love, good and evil, life and death. Passion becomes a horizon within which all boundaries are forced to buckle and bend.

castaneda peyote Trickster as teacher is a confounding agent of transformation, never fully one thing or another, someone betwixt and between all moral and immoral categories. Trickster personifies contradiction, the creator and destroyer of cultural norms: sacred clown, amoral agent, thief and giver of fire, creator and destroyer of precious worlds.

Trickster keeps the mind nimble as it surfs the waves of unadulterated laughter through the pretentiousness, audacity and fallibility of the human condition, while navigating between opposites in order to create new meaning out of the outdated meaning of old. Indeed, only trickster can see: Evolution makes parochial morals immoral. Like James Russell Lowell said, “Time makes ancient good uncouth.”

So trickster dons the mask of Anansi and Br’er Rabbit to show how high humor can defeat slavery and oppression. Trickster becomes Coyote in order to deliver the fiery secrets of Prometheus, Maui, and Loki as a gift to mankind.

Trickster blurs black and white into gray, assuming the form of Kitsune in order to smear right and wrong thinking (mind) into healthy and unhealthy feeling (no-mind). Trickster usurps summits, shapeshifting into Crow in order to deliver cosmic information and unveil the lines drawn between infinity and finitude, to reveal the ever-present “ropes to god” dangling down from our higher self.

Trickster transcends human limitation, transforming into Heyoka in order to become a human bridge between animal and ubermensch. Trickster has the nerve to stare into the abyss while dragging our premature gaze along with it, forcing us to peer over the ledge of our anxiety.

Trickster slaps God in the face (questioning authority), kills Buddha on the path (injecting humility), and spits in Satan’s too fiery mouth (extinguishing the flames of fear). Trickster is self-actualized audacity, double-dog-daring the cosmos into an apocalyptic dance.

When we face our own inner trickster, we are forced into a paramount decision: dance or decay; truly live or become a zombie; cultivate a good sense of humor or remain a victim of self-seriousness. Become overwhelmed by the conservatism of the tribe or liberate the tribe by creating new more adaptive tribal values.

Like Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen said, “The real struggle of the heroic individual is not solely to liberate himself from conflict with society, but rather to use the conflict within himself as a source for self-regeneration.”

Our inner trickster is precisely the conflict within us that can be used as a source for self-regeneration.

Personifying trickster energy gives us the uncanny power to become half-human half-whatever (jaguar/owl/coyote/crow/God/Buddha/thunder/Eros), thereby granting us the ability to transcend the human condition and see with “over eyes” the deep interconnected mysteries of the cosmos.

Those who can do this can be rid of all of their cultural restrictions and inhibitions. They liberate themselves of guilt and envy, thus freeing their hearts for comfort zone expansion, allowing no restriction on the potential for personal flourishing.
This is the epitome of deep imaginative thought. When we individuate trickster energy, we liberate the soul. We liberate each other. We inadvertently crack the shell of our rigidness, thus releasing the chaotic but creative energy lying dormant within; the kind of energy we must be capable of tapping into if we’re ever going to give birth to dancing stars. And give birth we must.

But first, let us gestate in deep thought. Let us incubate in self-interrogation. Let us marinate in sacred humor. Let us do as nature would do: transform trickster mythos (unified differences) into trickster ethos (differentiated unity).

Like Alan Watts said, “Nature is always differentiated unity, not unified differences.”

Trickster ethos puts it all into astounding perspective: disclosing life through death, love through pain, passion through hunger, and courage through vulnerability. High humor is thus revealed as the wave that the Cosmic Hero surfs out of the ocean of infinity: caustic but adaptive, scathing but flexible, ironic but iconic, deceptive but receptive, finite-laden but infinitely connected.

The Wave of High Humor relentlessly crashes through all things, becoming, even as it shatters, all molds; revealing to us the consummate pulsing indifference of a majestic cosmos with us precariously dancing at its infinite-at-all-points center.

The only sound reaction to it all is inscrutable laughter, hungry howling hilarity, and a deep sacred amusement at the way it’s all put together by us perceptually and by cosmic forces actually.

So here I am, floating, standing, meditating, godding, whatever – I just had a sip of Perception Overhaul Tea followed by a chaser of the honey-like ambrosia of High Humor. All anxiety is being transformed into laughter. The cosmos is a giant Ecstasy all around me. My trickster heart is a giant nostalgia in my chest.

My coyote eye eclipses all boundaries. My Owl eye resurrects new worlds. My frontal lobes are the unfolding wings of Thunderbird. Symmetry is the profane consecration of everything. Asymmetry is the sacred decry of everything else.

Nothing is out of my reach. Nothingness is everywhere. Everything is right here. Right here. Here… Am I seriously the only one laughing at it?

Image source:

Mushroom skull illusion
Don Juan Eyes
Trickster Coyote

Please share, it really helps! :) <3

Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.


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